Last week I spoke to one of my friends who had just set up her new aquarium. She knew that I wrote a lot about aquariums so when she started having trouble with her new tank she came to me. I asked her a few simple questions about what was going on and I can’t say that I was surprised with her responses. As is true for any hobby, there is a learning curve to overcome when it comes to keeping an aquarium. Unfortunately, many novice aquarium hobbyists don’t take enough time researching and learning how to properly cultivate a tank before they try it for themselves. This was the case with my friend.
Here’s the scoop. My friend purchased a 20-gallon aquarium and set it up in the living room at her house, right next to the window. She’d filled the tank with tap water and treated it with a dechlorinating solution before setting up all of her equipment. She had a hang-on filter, a submersible heater, and a tank hood with a light in it. She set up the tank on a Sunday and let it run for a few days until she had time to get to the pet store on Friday for her fish. She bought a half dozen fish, took them home, and added them to her tank.
Everything seemed to be fine for a while, but after a few days two of her fish had died. She replaced them with new fish and, so far, they are doing well. But then she started encountering a different problem. Thick algae was starting to grow all over the surfaces of her tank and her tank walls were spotted with green. She tried scrubbing it off but it always came back and she was becoming very frustrated. So, she headed back to the pet store and bought a bottle of algae control solution and added it to her tank. Not only did it not work, but another one of her fish died. That is when she came to me.
If you have experience in keeping freshwater aquariums, you may have already identified a few of the mistakes my friend made. First, I don’t think she gave her tank enough time to cycle before she added the fish. This is by far the most common mistake that new aquarium hobbyists make. When she added the fish to her tank and started feeding them, they started producing waste and that waste started producing ammonia as it decomposed. Without a colony of beneficial bacteria in the tank to handle all of that ammonia, the conditions in her tank became toxic which is what killed her fish. By the time she replaced the fish that had died, her tank had probably cycled so the new fish were fine.
The second mistake my friend made was in placing her tank right next to a window. It might seem like this is a good idea, especially if you have live plants in your tank that need a lot of light. But direct sunlight is never a good thing for freshwater aquariums. Too much light will only lead to algae growth, as my friend quickly learned. It is also possible that the algae was feeding on the excess nutrients available due to overfeeding and the breakdown of waste products in the tank. I don’t know for sure that my friend was overfeeding her fish, but that is another very common mistake that new aquarium hobbyists make.
The final mistake my friend made was in trying to solve her tank problems with chemicals. If you head to the aquarium aisle at your local pet store you will find the shelves stocked with all kinds of chemical solutions for every problem you can imagine – algae growth, cloudy water, and various types of disease. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t realize that adding chemicals to her tank usually ends up doing more harm than good. In some cases the chemicals might help with the problem but they are also likely to cause side effects – like changes in water chemistry – that can lead to additional problems. It is always better to avoid chemicals when possible. In some cases something as simple as a water change might be enough to solve the problem.
It took some work, but my friend and I were able to move her tank out of the sunlight and we performed a big water change to help improve the water quality in her tank – I also taught her how to test her tank water using an aquarium water test kit. My friend now has a deeper understanding of what goes on behind the scenes in an aquarium – things like biological filtration and the breakdown of wastes – and I think her tank will fare much better for it. If you are thinking about starting a tank of your own, learn from my friend’s mistakes and take the time to really do your research before setting up the tank so you can get it started correctly right off the bat.
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